Monday, November 8, 2010
Sometimes people ask me, “Daniel, if you could trade places with anyone in the world for one day, who would it be?” Honestly, I find it hard to answer that question. I can't think of a single person I'd rather be.
If you're like me, you're all too familiar with the high price of celebrity. My ascent to the A-list stratosphere was never paved—it took hard work, incredible talent, and my decision to move to a rural town in a foreign country where there are no other people like me. Doing my daily rounds on campus must be the way Bon Jovi feels at the supermarket. The persistent double-takes, hushed whispers, and jaw-dropping stares have resulted in crippling insecurity, abject fear of the public spotlight, and my recent decision to renounce all material possessions to live a hermit life in the Catskills. I guess that's what they call “the cost of fame.”
I can't even finish a game of basketball without someone offering me a complimentary bottle of water as if to thank me for the privilege of watching me play. It's exhausting really. Cell phone camera photos are the worst. There I am at dinner, ready to roll my tongue over a thick, juicy stick of chuanr, when I hear the unmistakable click of a camera shutter at the next table over. Let's see you try and sell that one to Us Weekly, pervert.
People always seem to want me to do something—sing a song, say a few words in Chinese, give them one-on-one English lessons for free at my house. Who am I—the Godfather? And what is this—my little girl's wedding reception? Oh, I'm sorry, I left my accordion and my tiny dancing monkey back at the house. Just kidding, I don't own an accordion. For occasions like this, I might as well carry around a tip jar. Sure, I already pull in a four-figure salary, but it doesn't hurt to make a little extra money on the side.
Take a couple weeks ago, for instance, when I got a call from Wendy Wang. She calls me at night from time to time when she's bored and there's no one to talk to online. That's what I call connecting with my fans. I met her in March when all of the foreigners went to see the Shanxi Zhongyu play their last home basketball game of the season in Taiyuan. She works as a sports journalist and befriended us after the game. She called to say that she desperately needed my help with something. Apparently, she wanted to write an article about the foreign community in Taigu and needed to interview me so that she could complete her assignment without getting fired. Now that's a cause I can get behind. I've always considered myself a man of the people.
Wendy's article was actually published under the “Education” header in the October 21st issue of the Shanxi Daily, a newspaper covering the region's news. It talks about how we as foreign teachers discuss the cultural differences between China and the West in class, and in our spare time, exemplify those shared differences with a mixture of Chinese and American food that we cook together with Chinese friends and students. In the picture from left to right: James, Alma (a former student), me, Ray (one of the new Fellows), Gerald, and Crystal (another former student who gave me a copy of this article).
For the price of dinner at a modest restaurant, I also do speeches, lectures, and improv comedy. Yesterday I played a full house—over 200 people, all there to watch me speak. I got the gig from my Chinese tutor, Francis, who wanted someone else to teach his classes this week. He thought it might be entertaining to have a foreigner up there for his students to gawk at for an hour. All of the other foreign teachers said they were “too busy,” which meant that I got top-billing. I told him that he was lucky he booked me in advance. On weekday nights I'm usually too busy lying semi-comatose in a pool of my own urine, but I told him I'd make an exception in this case. After all, I have to prepare myself for a weekend of heavy drinking.
Francis' 200-student specialized English class that I taught at his behest on Monday. I did a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation on OSCA to give the students a sense of one of the most unique student organizations at Oberlin, followed by a Q&A session. It was probably the biggest crowd I had ever talked in front of in my life.
It hardly mattered what I talked about—I could tell the kids were riveted. Usually when I ask something in class, students simply repeat it back to me instead of answering it. I don't blame them. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. By the time I took questions from the audience, I could barely keep the same three volunteers in their seats. After my lecture, I posed for photo-ops and signed no less than four standard-size composition notebooks as well as a manila folder. One girl even asked me to sign the exposed area between her neck and her chest, but I politely refused. “You're not that pretty, sweetheart,” I told her, just before setting off into the sunset.
So, to answer your question, no, I don't ever wish I were less famous. The life of a superstar is a difficult one, but those are the brakes that society has told us are desirable in a person. Even the guys at the pool asked if I wanted to get my skin scrubbed with them at the bathhouse—their treat. It's truly flattering. But I just don't have that kind of time.
Just in case it's not painfully obvious, this is a parody, in the vain of McSweeney's and other similar internet tendency. And for those sticklers out there, it also exceeds my project-allotted 600-word limit by 200 words.